That no wise the nature of all things
For us was fashioned by power divine
So great the faults it stand encumbered with.
I just finished reading L’Espirit de l’athéisme – Introduction à une spiritualité sans Dieu by André Comte-Sponville. This book’s title has been translated (??) into English as The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality. Why didn’t they use “The Spirit of Atheism – An Introduction to Spirituality Without God”?
The book has three chapters:
I) Can We Do Without Religion?
II) Does God Exist?
III) Can There Be an Atheist Spirituality?
In the first chapter Comte-Sponville says that we can do without religion but wants to hold on to certain aspects of religion. Get rid of faith but keep fidelity, keep communion and love. He also thinks that secular rites such as funerals are bad copies of their religious counterparts. He worries that Nihilism is a danger in this new era and proposes Humanism to counter this threat.
The second chapter goes through many examples of the lack of evidence and strong arguments for the belief in a god. Comte-Sponville writes of the mediocrity of mankind, the problem of evil, the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, amongst others. If you are already an atheist you have been there many times before, if not, it will be new territory.
The third and last chapter touches on spirituality. But what is spirit?
“The human spirit…is our noblest part, or rather our highest function, the thing that makes us not only different from other animals…but greater than and superior to them”
“Whatever it is, we can use it to think, to want, or to imagine…. It is the power to think, insofar as it gives us access to truth, universality, or laughter. It is likely that without the brain, this ability would be able to do nothing at all or would not even exist”
“The spirit is not a substance. Rather, it is a function, a capacity, an act (the act of thinking, willing, imagining, making wisecracks)”
In the end he says that it does not matter if this “thing” is the brain. He talks of the capacity to live in the present and give no importance to the past and the future, as they do not exist. He is highly influenced by eastern religion, delving deeply into personal experience as he goes into an explanation of immanence and letting go of one’s ego, being part of everything or having what he calls an “oceanic feeling”.
If by spirit he means the human ability for empathy, awe, ethics and curiosity, that is fine. Give it another name. I am not sure, but “Ethos” would work better for me and remove the possible supernatural connotation.
Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.
IHEU Minimum Statement on Humanism
See you next time.
- Contemporary Humanism and Spirituality, Part 5 (psychologytoday.com)
- Study: World of atheism diverse, nonbelievers can’t be lumped together (timesfreepress.com)
- Atheists Who Pray (atheistrev.com)
I have been delinquent in my posting, so sorry. A long needed vacation got in the way.
Just before leaving for my vacation, I had some nice interaction with some family members about my atheism. I am very sure that most of you have already gone through this:
Why do you have to be so vocal about your atheism? Why don’t you just keep it to yourself?
No offense, I love you and my intention is not to offend you…I like many have my doubts, and sometimes I believe and sometimes I doubt.I respect that you’re an atheist and you are absolutely sure of your belief. But what I criticize and I see as even a little ridiculous is making atheism a religion, with lectures and symposia. All you need now is to start having Masses to Saint Atheist.
How do you like them cookies?
Nice double standard. I have to – and do – tolerate people wearing crosses, a star of David, an Om symbol or whatever symbol of religiosity, but I can’t wear my atheist bands or t-shirts without somebody bothering me. Good thing my Happy Humanist pins don’t cause any trouble. I must tolerate constant references to a deity, but one word of disbelief and I am being militant.
And well, I am loved and respected but I am ridiculous. But enough of that, on to the vacation.
By no means was I only lying on the beach and sipping on a nice cool drink.
I got a chance to read Testament: Memoir of the Thoughts and Sentiments of Jean Meslier and to start reading L’ Esprit De L‘Atheisme (The soul of atheism) by André Comte-Sponville. The first book I bought on my own accord and the second was a gift from a friend.
Meslier’s book is an interesting impeachment of religion with a dash of anti-monarchism, a pinch of animal rights and a touch of communism. It is probably the first book on atheism. A very interesting read although a bit repetitive. Meslier really wanted to get his message across.
I will get back to you on my thought of Comte-Sponville’s book when I finish it.
At lunch the very first day I came back to work, I got into an enjoyable discussion on some well-known topics:
You can’t have morality if you don’t have religion.
Hitler was an atheist.
I already have a previous post on the first one: Borrowed Morality and never have given the second much of a thought, although what I read in Mein Kampf depicts a Christian, but now I will have to read Ian Kershaw‘s books on Hitler. The third point is defenseless, homeopathy has no scientific backing. You might enjoy this 2009 article in Forbes or this one in The Lancet called Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homeopathy and allopathy .
Things got back to speed very soon after vacation time and that is just fine. How was your week?
See you next time.
P.S. The Hotel had a nice Nespresso bar so I was never without my daily dose of caffeine.
I am a customer of Starbucks, but I never touch their coffee, not even with a ten foot pole. I like some of their sandwiches and a few of the cold drinks served there. I gave them the benefit of the doubt and tried many of their coffees, but for the life of me, I cannot like the taste. Even though they say that the coffee is arabica, many times I have encountered a rubbery taste typical of blends that have robusta and the lack of body is appalling.
Coffee is not just a drink, it is a multi-sensory experience. The very first thing that strikes me is the aroma, more so when I grind my coffee beans. Then comes the sight of that black elixir and the anticipation of taking that very first sip and the explosion of taste, as well as that warm comforting sensation it provides as your drink it. But not just that, coffee also revolves around conversation and ambiance. It is not the same to have your coffee on the run in a disposable cup than to drink it in an agreeable environment.
The business model is great and has been picked up by many other coffee shops, some even serve very good coffee.
Maybe as consumers we follow the so called “Principle of least effort” and are more than willing to sacrifice quality to obtain convenience.
And possibly another is some good neuromarketing. It could be our (well not mine, but…) brain remembers the pleasant experience and favors it over the taste.
As social animales we crave a sense of community and this kind of shop offers it to a limited degree.
Some of the people who are part of the coffee house community are young and probably were never exposed to a traditional coffee shop. I had the joy of living next to a small coffee roaster, so every Saturday I would wake to the exquisite smell of freshly roasted coffee (one of the chimneys was just next to my window) and of course run next door for my fresh cup of Joe. I guess that if they get them while they are young, they won’t know better.
Well, as taste is so individual and subjective, maybe I am only being a coffee snob, or as some say “being more papist than the Pope”, but I just can’t help it.
What is your take on this?
See you next time.
A recent poll by YouGov / The Sun Survey Results has reported results that give hope for the future.
The poll was taken from June the 14th to the 19th and involved young adults aged 18 to 24.
The questions related to their feelings about the future, jobs, relationships, buying a home, etc.
The poll demonstrated, contrary to popular belief, that parents have a great deal of influence upon this group. Much more than politicians, celebrities and a great deal more than religious leaders.
What was most striking were the results of the questions related to religion.
According to the results 56% of this age group have no religion. Only 25% believe in a god and 19% believe in a spiritual greater power. That means that 56% of young adults are non believers, a big difference when compared to the 2011 census. Atheists accounted for 38% and Agnostics 18% which is higher than earlier reports I have commented before.
For a link to the complete survey click here.
See you next time.
When somebody sneezes, most people respond in an automatic fashion with a “Bless You”, “Gesundheit” or something along those lines. The person who sneezes does not say anything immediately after sneezing.
As a noisy bodily function you could expect the person who sneezes to say “excuse me” as when one burps, but no.
We have made this response to a sneeze a part of everyday etiquette and do not pause to ask ourselves why we do it.
Where does this come from?
The response to sternutation has its origins in superstition. Long before germ theory, it was thought that our life was intimately connected to our breath, so when one sneezed, there was an increased risk of death. In other stories it was believed that the act of sneezing expelled a demon from the person’s body and the phrase “bless you” was said in an attempt to avoid the demon from reentering the person who had just exorcised himself through the power of the sternutation. Some believed that heart stopped when sneezing or that your eyes could pop out. Pope Gregory the Great during the 6th century ordered prayer for those suffering from the plague and a “God Bless You” for those that sneezed as a wish that they would not fall to the plague. And from this we acquired the custom.
This habit is so ingrained in society, that even though we know it serves no purpose and is rooted in ancient superstition, I find myself saying Gesundheit or an equivalent. Well, sometimes I can fight it back and remain silent.
All over the world there are responses to sneezing that relate to blessings or to health.
I think that the person who sneezes should excuse themselves, just as they do after a burp.
Sneezing is a bodily function that most times serves the purpose of expelling a foreign particle that irritates the nasal mucosa, other times it can be the manifestation of an infection such as the flu or cases like photic sneezing (“sun sneezing”), just the expression of a higher sensitivity to visual stimuli or rarer situations like snatiation or even sneezing due to sexual ideation or orgasm (take a look at this great post by Dr. Mark Griffiths called “Sneezy does it: Sex, sneezing, and sneezing fetishes”).
What one should really do is face away from other people and sneeze into a handkerchief o tissue paper, if this is not available then into the pit of your elbow to avoid possible transmission of disease.
And in my profession sometimes I have to sneeze into a mask causing worry as what should be done. It is said that I should just sneeze into the mask facing the wound. And in light of this article, it seems the proper thing to do.
Some will think that wanting to change this bit of everyday etiquette is of no use and is an intrusion into other people’s customs. But this custom has no use, no reason to be. I don’t see many people throwing spilt salt over their left shoulder anymore and like that custom, saying bless you or Gesundheit to a person who sneezes is just acting upon superstition.
See you next time.